A financial audit is conducted to provide an opinion whether "financial statements" (the information being verified) are stated in accordance with specified criteria. Normally, the criteria are international accounting standards, although auditors may conduct audits of financial statements prepared using the cash basis or some other basis of accounting appropriate for the organisation. In providing an opinion whether financial statements are fairly stated in accordance with accounting standards, the auditor gathers evidence to determine whether the statements contain material errors or other misstatements.
The audit opinion is intended to provide reasonable assurance, but not absolute assurance, that the financial statements are presented fairly, in all material respects, and/or give a true and fair view in accordance with the financial reporting framework. The purpose of an audit is to provide an objective independent examination of the financial statements, which increases the value and credibility of the financial statements produced by management, thus increase user confidence in the financial statement, reduce investor risk and consequently reduce the cost of capital of the preparer of the financial statements.
In accordance with the US GAAP, auditors must release an opinion of the overall financial statements in the auditor's report. Auditors can release three types of statements other than an unqualified/unmodified opinion. The unqualified auditor's opinion is the opinion that the financial statements are presented fairly. A qualified opinion is that the financial statements are presented fairly in all material respects in accordance with US GAAP, except for a material misstatement that does not however pervasively affect the user's ability to rely on the financial statements. A qualified opinion can also be issued for a scope limitation that is of limited significance. Further the auditor can instead issue a disclaimer, because there is insufficient and appropriate evidence to form an opinion or because of lack of independence. In a disclaimer the auditor explains the reasons for withholding an opinion and explicitly indicates that no opinion is expressed. Finally, an adverse audit opinion is issued when the financial statements do not present fairly due to departure from US GAAP and the departure materially affects the financial statements overall. In an adverse auditor's report the auditor must explain the nature and size of the misstatement and must state the opinion that the financial statements do not present fairly in accordance with US GAAP.
Financial audits are typically performed by firms of practicing accountants who are experts in financial reporting. The financial audit is one of many assurance functions provided by accounting firms. Many organizations separately employ or hire internal auditors, who do not attest to financial reports but focus mainly on the internal controls of the organization. External auditors may choose to place limited reliance on the work of internal auditors. Auditing promotes transparency and accuracy in the financial disclosures made by an organization, therefore would likely reduce such corporations concealmeant of unscrupulous dealings.
Internationally, the International Standards on Auditing (ISA) issued by the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB) is considered as the benchmark for audit process. Almost all jurisdictions require auditors to follow the ISA or a local variation of the ISA.
Financial audits exist to add credibility to the implied assertion by an organisation's management that its financial statements fairly represent the organisation's position and performance to the firm's stakeholders. The principal stakeholders of a company are typically its shareholders, but other parties such as tax authorities, banks, regulators, suppliers, customers and employees may also have an interest in knowing that the financial statements are presented fairly, in all material aspects. An audit is not designed to provide absolute assurance, being based on sampling and not the testing of all transactions and balances; rather it is designed to reduce the risk of a material financial statement misstatement whether caused by fraud or error. A misstatement is defined in ISA 450 as an error, omitted disclosure or inappropriate accounting policy. "Material" is an error or omission that would affect the users decision. Audits exist because they add value through easing the cost of information asymmetry and reducing information risk, not because they are required by law (note: audits are obligatory in many EU-member states and in many jurisdictions are obligatory for companies listed on public stock exchanges). For collection and accumulation of audit evidence, certain methods and means generally adopted by auditors are:
Financial audit is a profession known for its male dominance. According to the latest survey, it found that 70%-80% of the financial auditors are male, with 2% being female and the rest being a mixture of both (Bader, 2018).